- Mental Health
Anatomy of a Codependent Person
In order to understand the problems of being a codependent (CD) person, it’s helpful to learn more about the anatomy, or makeup, of these individuals. What features are typical of a CD?
CDs use their focus on the other party (OP) – which may be a spouse, parent, sibling, friend, or even a colleague - to avoid dealing with one or more personal issues. The issue might be chronic physical or mental illness, emotional suffering (unhappiness), addiction, or a combination of two or more of these. If the CD is even aware of this fact, she often dismisses her own issue because she wants to solve the “bigger problem” – which means fixing the OP – first. The OP’s problem may fall into the same category as the CD’s – both parties suffer from untreated mental illness or chronic drug addiction, for example – or it may fall into a different category entirely. Regardless, the CD seeks out an OP whose problem is, in the CD’s view, more severe than hers (the OP may or may not agree). Conveniently, when the OP refuses to confront his problem, the CD is off the hook indefinitely, since his crisis must be solved before she deals with her own. Therefore, a CD who is highly averse to confronting her own issue selects an individual who is struggling with a proportionately severe problem, making the likelihood of it ever being resolved negligible. Thus the CD is even more unlikely to ever have the opportunity to work on herself.
CDs typically view themselves as unselfish helpmates, even martyrs, when in fact they are controlling and nagging. A relationship can never be healthier than its sickest member, but the CD egotistically believes that she can force the OP to confront and resolve his issues, thus “saving” the relationship. She believes that by saying, doing, or being the right thing, she will rescue the OP, make him into a new and improved version of himself, and “win” a healthy, loving relationship as the prize for all of her hard work.
CDs are not bad people. They are typically good, caring people taken to such an extreme that they are slowly being psychically excavated by the neediness of the OP. But CDs run a tremendous risk of becoming someone they, and possibly others, come to hate. When their outer worlds collapse, CDs have no resources left for themselves, because they’ve been delivering them freely and carelessly, from what feels like a bottomless supply but isn’t, to the OP, with no return on their investment whatsoever. The CD supports, but rarely or never feels supported. The CD creates a stable environment for the OP, but rarely or never feels secure. The CD arranges events (which the OP often fails to attend) in the OP’s life, but skips occasions that are important to her, often as some sort of “sacrifice” to the OP.
As a consequence of all this giving and not-receiving, the CD often becomes hostile and bitter as time passes. The CD has made endless concessions and offerings to the OP, and nothing has come of it. The OP continues to live as he always has, and the relationship remains unhealthy and unsatisfying to the CD. In the meantime, the CD’s problem(s), which have been ignored while she invested time and energy in “fixing” the OP, remain, or may even have become more complex and difficult to unravel. The more she invests in trying to fix the OP, the more brittle and desperate to succeed the CD becomes.
CDs can be male or female, old or young, and be highly intelligent or much less so, as can OPs. The CD phenomenon crosses ethnic boundaries and income levels. The one thing that all CDs have in common is that they had one or more parent or parent figure with issues similar to the OP’s and had the CD relationship modeled for them as they grew up (this may be true of the OP as well). However, the CD may not have been aware of the dysfunction; many families keep dark secrets, and some issues, such as gambling, might not be easily identifiable to a child.
The solution to codependence is typically 12-step meetings, reading codependence literature, therapy, or some combination of the above, with awareness of and vigilance against codependence becoming, unfortunately, a lifelong battle. However, the journey of recovery offers many benefits, most notably the opportunity to be responsible for one’s own life, and an opportunity for growth; in any case, the alternative of being locked into a lifetime of codependency is untenable for many individuals.